Cross-posted from Education Week
A while back, I wrote a series of blogs on accountability. When I had finished, I thought it might be useful if I were to put them together into one tightly woven narrative. We released that paper today. You can find it here.
If you read the original pieces, you will find a lot of new material in the full report. If you didn’t, then here’s your chance to find out what I think about this rather fraught subject. To whet your appetite, I quickly summarize the main points below.
The report calls for replacing the current system of test-based accountability with a system much more likely to result in improvements in student performance. It points out that the current system has not only failed to improve the performance of the at-risk students it was designed to help, but has alienated the best of our current teachers and created an environment in which able young people choosing careers are less likely to choose teaching.
I point out that the countries in which student performance is outstripping the achievement of American students are not using accountability systems like ours, which they view as more appropriate for industrial-era blue collar workers than the kind of professionals they want in their schools.
Fixing Our National Accountability System says the alternative to the kind of punitive accountability measures now dominating American policy is not just a different accountability system but a different kind of education system. The report’s proposal does not focus on getting rid of our worst teachers, but on producing a surplus of very good teachers and making sure those teachers are equitably distributed among our students, so that students who are harder to educate get more of them than those who are easier to educate. The countries that outperform the United States in comparative studies of student performance are recruiting their teachers from the upper ranges of their high school graduates, greatly raising the standards for getting into schools of education, making sure that prospective teachers have a very strong education in the subjects they will teach and making sure they learn their craft with early and comprehensive experiences in real school settings overseen by experienced mentor teachers. They are attracting first class candidates into the teaching profession by offering them starting salaries comparable to those of high status professionals, using career ladders to create real careers in teaching and recruiting and training school leaders who are very good at making schools the kind of places that true professionals want to work in.
The current education accountability system is not only ineffective but harmful. By requiring grade-by-grade testing, it creates an incentive to use low-quality, cheap tests that fail to measure the very skills that will be most in demand in the modern work place. By focusing testing on English and mathematics literacy, it encourages schools to drastically limit the curriculum for the very students who most need a full core curriculum. By emphasizing drastic punitive measures for the teachers of our most vulnerable students, it drives capable teachers away from schools that serve those students. By emphasizing the hunt for bad teachers instead of the need for great teachers, it perpetuates the very problems it is designed to address. A new style of accountability must be developed within a new design for public education and linked to a much more comprehensive approach to teacher development.
The report would change the testing regime by calling for fewer, but much higher quality, tests. Each student would take a high stakes accountability test only three times in his or her entire school career, as is the case in a number of the top-performing countries. Tests that sample the student population (and oversample the population of vulnerable students) would be used to track the performance of schools. Parents could easily access complete public reports on school performance on state web sites designed for that purpose. Data from the high stakes tests and the sampling tests would be used to identify schools that might be in trouble and those schools would receive visits from inspection teams of expert educators charged with identifying problems and proposing solutions, among which would be pairing successful schools with low-performing schools and similar strategies successfully used in the top-performing countries to boost the performance of low-performing schools. Schools would be redesigned along the lines of organizations employing high status professionals and the teachers in those schools would be accountable to each other for their performance, in much the same way the professionals are accountable to each other for their performance in other professional workplaces.
How do we know this will work? Because it is working, at a national scale, in the countries that are outperforming us.